Past perfect

Level: intermediate

The past perfect is made from the verb had and the past participle of a verb:

I had finished the work.
She had gone.

The past perfect continuous is made from had been and the -ing form of a verb:

had been working there for a year.
They had been painting the bedroom.

The past perfect is used in the same way as the present perfect, but it refers to a time in the past, not the present. We use the past perfect:

  • for something that started in the past and continued up to a given time in the past:

When George died, he and Anne had been married for nearly fifty years.
She didn't want to move. She had lived in Liverpool all her life.

For this use, we often use the past perfect continuous:

She didn't want to move. She had been living in Liverpool all her life.
Everything was wet. It had been raining for hours.

  • for something that happened several times before a point in the past and continued after that point:

He was a wonderful guitarist. He had been playing ever since he was a teenager.
He had written three books and he was working on another one.

  • when we are reporting our experience up to a point in the past:

My eighteenth birthday was the worst day I had ever had.
I was pleased to meet George. I hadn’t met him before, even though I had met his wife several times.

  • for something that happened in the past and is important at a later time in the past

I couldn't get into the house. I had lost my keys.
Teresa wasn't at home. She had gone shopping.

We often use expressions with for and since with the past perfect:

I was sorry when the factory closed. I had worked there for ten years
I had been watching that programme every week since it started, but I missed the last episode.
 

We do not normally use the past perfect continuous with stative verbs. We use the past perfect simple instead:

Up until that moment, I'd never believed (NOT been believing) in astrology.

Past perfect

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Past perfect and past simple

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Past perfect and hypotheses

We can also use the past perfect to make hypotheses about the past (when we imagine something). See these pages:

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Soumis par budqrs le sam 11/06/2016 - 03:11

En réponse à par Keil13

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Kile13 I might be able to shed some light on at least part of your question. The sentence 'I had read the book years before.' indicates that I finished the book years before. The second sentence 'I had been reading the book years before' indicates that I started the book, but at that time, at least, had not finished it. I might have finished it recently, but as that information is not given, it has no bearing on the sentence itself. In your example of 'I had been reading the book almost to the end but then I remembered I have read it some years before.' is not correct. There are two correct ways for that sentence. Either 'I had been reading the book but then I remembered I had read it years before' or 'I had read the book almost to the end but then I remembered I had read it before'. Using the phrase 'almost to the end' indicates an end point before you stopped reading, which means the action was no longer continuous. The P.P.C.. (I like the way you did that, by the way) has no end until the next action, in this case remembering that I had read the book before. I hope that if you read this, it helps.

Soumis par Keil13 le mar 05/05/2015 - 13:21

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Hello, when we are reporting our experience and including up to the (then) present: My eighteenth birthday was the worst day I had ever had. I was pleased to meet George. I hadn’t met him before, even though I had met his wife several times. for something that happened in the past but is important at the time of reporting: I couldn’t get into the house. I had lost my keys. Teresa wasn’t at home. She had gone shopping. We use the past perfect to talk about the past in conditions, hypotheses and wishes: I would have helped him if he had asked. It was very dangerous. What if you had got lost? I wish I hadn’t spent so much money last month. All this examples refers to past perfect only? Or also continiouous? And if so how it applicable to the continiouous ?

Soumis par Peter M. le mar 05/05/2015 - 22:15

En réponse à par Keil13

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Hello Kile13,

I'm not sure what you mean. You seem to be suggesting that 'past perfect' and 'continuous' are mutually exclusive, but this is not the case. It is quite possible to have a past perfect continuous form, and the continuous aspect adds the same meaning each time. Take a look at this page on the continuous aspect to see what it adds to the meaning, irrespective of whether it is past, present, perfect etc.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Keil13 le mar 05/05/2015 - 04:47

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... And for last question if you might know about this...I am working through iPad and the exercise in flash isn't working for me. Do you happens to know why is it so? Thank you Kile

Hello Kile,

Our exercises are made with Flash, and so unfortunately don't work on the iPad. We're working on a solution to this, but I'm afraid it will be some time before we're able to implement it.

I deleted the rest of your comment and want to explain why. For one thing, a lot of the text is already found on this page - there was no need to repeat it. The second part of your comment was from another webpage. We don't want to publish content from another webpage, just as we don't want others to publish our content on their websites. Another point is that we don't have time to read such long comments in which we have to go looking for the questions. Finally, long comments make the page less useful for other users.

So please keep your questions short, and ask only one per comment. If you have several questions, please post them in separate comments and we'll get to them as we can. Thanks for your understanding.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Keil13 le mer 29/04/2015 - 03:42

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I noticed you teach past perfect and continuous at the same page. If I understand it right. The example of use is similar however when you use had+ been +ing you refer to continuous and when had+ past participle you refer to past perfect? for something we had done several times up to a point in the past and continued to do after that point: He was a wonderful guitarist. He had been playing ever since he was a teenager. He had written three books and he was working on another one. I had been watching the programme every week, but I missed the last episode. As in here the second " had written" is perfect(?) for something that started in the past and continued up to a given time in the past: When George died he and Anne had been married for nearly fifty years. She didn’t want to move. She had lived in Liverpool all her life. And here the last sentence refer to past perfect(?) As well as here in ' since' section: it's not clear what tense you refer too..can I understand that when you use the had+ past participle you refer to past perfect and when using Had+ been+ ing you refer to continuous? We often use a clause with since to show when something started in the past: They had been staying with us since the previous week. I was sorry when the factory closed. I had worked there since I left school. I had been watching that programme every week since it started, but I missed the last episode. when we are reporting our experience and including up to the (then) present: My eighteenth birthday was the worst day I had ever had. I was pleased to meet George. I hadn’t met him before, even though I had met his wife several times. for something that happened in the past but is important at the time of reporting: I couldn’t get into the house. I had lost my keys. Teresa wasn’t at home. She had gone shopping.

Hello Kile13,

Yes, on this page we refer to the form had + past participle (2 words) as the 'past perfect'. More specifically, one could call it the 'past perfect simple' (to contrast it with the 'past perfect continuous'), though we, like many others involved in teaching English, often just refer to the 'past perfect simple' as the 'past perfect'.

The 'past perfect continuous' is indeed formed with had + been (= the past participle of the auxiliary verb 'be') + -ing form (3 words).

I think you have asked some other questions, but I'm afraid it's not completely clear to me what they are. Now that your question about what we call these two different but related forms is answered, could you please ask the other part again? Just one or two examples will be enough.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Iorshefabian le mar 28/04/2015 - 00:56

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Is it right to say "he has left" to mean one has gone?

Hello lorshefabian,

Yes, as you can see in our dictionary (see the Cambridge Dictionaries Online searchbox on the lower right), 'leave' means to go away from a place or person.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par shaimaas le mer 04/02/2015 - 21:24

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hello please i want to know when the past perfect come with the present in a sentence.

Soumis par Peter M. le jeu 05/02/2015 - 08:02

En réponse à par shaimaas

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Hello shaimaas,

It's difficult to provide a rule for such a general question as all sorts of tenses can be used in sentences in different ways. Perhaps you could provide an example of a sentence which you are thinking about and we'll tell you if it is correct, or how it might be corrected.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par buguniao le sam 24/01/2015 - 03:55

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Hello,teachers.Please do me a favor.what are the different meanings between the following senceses? 1).The matter that the Curies had discovered was radium. 2).The matter that the Curies discovered was radium. Thank you in advance.

Hello buguniao,

The first sentence is an example of the past perfect, and the second of the past simple.

  • We use the past simple when an action happens in the past.
  • We use the past perfect when an action happens in the past and is before another event, which it influences in some way.

It is the same relationship as the present perfect and the present:

  • We use the present perfect for an action before the present which influences a present action or state in some way.
  • We use the past perfect for an action before the present which influenced a past action or state in some way.

The first sentence does not make sense unless there is another event in the past referred to in another sentence.

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par buguniao le mer 21/01/2015 - 09:14

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Hello,teachers.Please give me a help.I am puzzled.Could you tell me is there any different meanings between these two sentences:"The matter that the Curies had discovered was radium."and "The matter that the Curies discovered was radium." Thanks in advance.

Soumis par Cobol le mer 10/12/2014 - 18:37

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I had got lost" can be used in the past perfect tense 'cause it derives from "to get lost" But in case we talk about possession like "I have got a new car", you can't turn have got into a past perfect tense like I had got a new car, can you?

Soumis par vikash kulhari le mer 12/11/2014 - 10:50

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When we use "had been and the past participle". example : When George died he and Anne had been married for nearly fifty years.

Hello vikash,

'had been' + the past participle would be a passive form, but that is not the case with 'had been married' in this sentence. Here, 'married' is simply an adjective and 'had been' is the verb 'be' in the past perfect.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par archijais le lun 10/11/2014 - 22:06

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hello, i just want to know that the following sentence is correct or not I wish it could be true.........

Soumis par Kirk le mar 11/11/2014 - 07:44

En réponse à par archijais

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Hello archijais,

This sentence is correctly formed and could be correct - it really depends on the context.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par yh24 le mer 29/10/2014 - 08:37

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Hi all, I'm not sure my sentences are correct, please enlighten me what is the difference between there : - She has written three books and she is working on the another one - She has been writing three books and she is working on the another one - She had written three books and she was working on the another one - She had been writing three books and she was working on the another one Thanks

Soumis par Peter M. le jeu 30/10/2014 - 09:27

En réponse à par yh24

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Hello yh24,

All of the sentences have the same error: they should say 'on another one' (without 'the'). In terms of the tenses, all of them are possible, but which is correct will depend upon the context and upon what the speaker wishes to say.

The first two sentences are examples of the difference between the present perfect simple and continuous - see here for an explanation and examples.

The second pair of sentences are examples of the difference between the present perfect simple and continuous - see here for an explanation and examples.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par preetam saha le sam 11/10/2014 - 22:06

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sorry my question was that if i could use would with the present perfect for example 1 if i have had to built the building u would not have helped me 2 if i had to built the building u wouldnt have helped me.now my question is that if both the sentence is correct or not in the 1st sentence i have used would after present perfect so is it correct.

Soumis par preetam saha le sam 11/10/2014 - 08:11

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sir could u tell me if i can use would with the present perfect for example 1. if i have had to build the building would have helped me or this 2 nd sentence is correct for example if i had to make would have helped me

Hello preetam saha,

The grammatically correct sentence that I think you are trying to make here is 'If I had had to build the building, they would have helped me'. In this sentence, which is called a third conditional construction, 'had had' is the past perfect and 'would have helped' is not 'would' + present perfect but rather 'would have + past participle'.

You can learn more about this on our verbs in time clauses and if clauses and our will have or would have pages.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello davide32,

The materials on LearnEnglish are designed to be self-access. That means you can work through them on your own, reading the guides and doing the exercises to test how well you have understood. If you have any specific questions about the material or the exercises, then you can use the comments sections to ask them and we'll answer as soon as we are able.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par davide32 le mer 24/09/2014 - 13:19

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hi teacher, i'm a new student .. i like this site for to learn english language :-) i'm italian boy and i want to learn english grammatical very well!!:-) i'm studying ther verbs now and i read all in this page..but i have difficult iin the past: past continuos past perfect simple past perfect continuos because is difficult to read these verbs in sentence.. i've tryed our exercize but i make errors always for the past...help me :-( hi from italy

Hello davide,

It's not really possible for us to explain broad areas of the verb system in these comments replies as we have to deal with many comments every day and such an explanation would be extremely long and complex. That is what the grammar reference pages are for. There are many pages devoted to narrative tenses and you can find them by using the grammar page (here) and clicking on the link to 'verbs'. You can also look through the pages in the Quick Grammar section (here) for pages relevant to your needs.

We'll be happy to explain any particular examples you might find tricky, of course. Just post your example and question in the comments section and we'll respond as soon as we are able.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par philipasa le mar 02/09/2014 - 10:54

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Can you say" You made me understood or You made me understand"

Hi philipasa,

Oscas Po is right: the correct way to say this is 'You made me understand'. And thanks, Oscas Po, for helping philipasa.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par zeeshan islam le jeu 24/07/2014 - 14:46

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hello sir ! i'm bit confused in these sentences please tell me which sentence is right ... have you been shopping or have u done shopping .

Hello zeeshan,

'Have you been shopping?' is derived from the expression 'to go shopping', which normally refers to shopping for things that are not food, and which many people enjoy shopping for, e.g. clothes, shoes, toys, etc. So this question would be appropriate when, for example, you come home and find that the people you live with are wearing new clothes.

'Have you done the shopping?' (note that it's 'the shopping') refers to shopping for food. So, for example, if you come home and find the people you live with putting away tins of food and fresh vegetables, you might ask this question.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Oscas Po le lun 21/07/2014 - 13:39

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hellow sir! i still get confused on when to use perfect and perfect continous tenses both in present and in past. what I understand is I use perfect tense when the action complete and perfect continous when the action is in progress. here i'm talking about the general usage. please clear help to clear my confusion thank you

Soumis par Oscas Po le ven 20/06/2014 - 14:07

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hi help me to understand this. look at these two sentences 1. He had written three books and he was working on another one 2. He had been writting books are these two sentences mean the same or not? if not what is the different between past perfect and past perfect continous?

Soumis par Kirk le sam 21/06/2014 - 09:57

En réponse à par Oscas Po

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Hello Opizzle,

No, these two sentences have different meanings. The past perfect simple indicates that an action was finished, whereas the past perfect continuous means that an action was in progress. In 1, three of this person's books were already finished at that time, but 2 implies that the books were not finished, as the person was still writing.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Oscas Po le ven 20/06/2014 - 13:11

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Hi my question can out of the matter but i real have a problem on speaking english especially automatic one, here i mean i can't speak as native speaker. what should i do please?

Soumis par Kirk le sam 21/06/2014 - 10:04

En réponse à par Oscas Po

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Hello Opizzle,

To improve your speaking, ideally, you should speak with other people. Perhaps you can find a conversation group or speak with a colleague or friend who is also learning English. In addition, you can learn a lot on your own. Series 3 of the Elementary Podcasts - start with episode 1 - is a great place to start. First, listen to the one or two sections of the podcast, and then read the transcript (under Instructions & downloads) as you listen. Then work through the exercises that correspond to the sections you've listened to.

To work on improving your pronunciation and fluency, choose some useful phrases from what you've listened to and imitate their pronunciation - repeat those words and phrases many times. Pronounce whole phrases, not just words, because the pronunciation of words in English varies according to context. Repeat these phrases until they're relatively easy to say.

This is slow work, but you'll be building up a repertoire of phrases that you'll be able to use fluently in your speaking.

Good luck!

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Winnie Huen le mer 18/06/2014 - 17:03

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Hi teacher, Can I use the future simple and past perfect tense in one sentence ? For example: I'm describing he had preformed on the stage last week. Thank you.

Hello Winnie,

"I'm describing what he had performed on stage last week" doesn't sound right to me, though perhaps in a very specific context it could work. Can you explain a bit more what you want to say and in which context? Do you perhaps mean "I'm going to describe what he performed on stage last week"?

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Somerset 82 le dim 11/05/2014 - 12:31

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Hi to everyone ! I ve got a question about past perfect, so please help me Well, I am going to put a couple sentences down so please could anyone helped me why in those examples had+V is used to reffer actions which are not "past in the past" 1. Before most people had ever heard of the digital currency, Brian thought it could make him a lot of money. (Brian thought before most people - this is erlier action in the past, isn't it ? ) 2. Everything had gone wrong from the moment she woke up. ( Everything had gone AFTER she woke up - why HAD+V to refer action which is closer to the present moment ? ) Thank in advance and sorry about my english :-)

Hello Somerset 82,

The issue here is that the actions you are describing form part of a narrative and the past perfect is used to show one event happened before another - but that second even is not necessarily mentioned in the sentence, but is rather implied by the context. For example, in your first sentence 'Before most people had ever heard of the digital currency, Brian thought it could make him a lot of money' the implication is that people later did head of the digital currency, and the past perfect indicates this.  We can see how the sentence would change if we put the other action in the past perfect:

Before most people heard of the digital currency, Brian had thought it could make him a lot of money.

Here, the meaning is completely different.  It now tells us that Brian's thinking changed, not that what people knew changed.

Your second sentence is similar.  Again, the sentence is part of a narrative and the narrator is looking back from a time in the story (now - but described in the past as it is a story) to a time earlier in the past.  It is this perspective which makes the past perfect the correct tense, not the time of the other action in the sentence.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Peter, thanks a lot !!! I ve decided to refresh my english gramar but ther's a couple obsticles on my way. Thanks to british counsile and You ther's no way that couldn't be overturned ! Best wishes

Soumis par Ahmed Khallaf le lun 05/05/2014 - 13:23

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is there any difference between using (protect ourselves protect us (for the same subject)

Hello ahmed only,

If the subject is 'we' then we would use 'ourselves'.  If the subject is something else then we would use 'us':

We can protect ourselves with anti-mosquito spray.

Anti-mosquito spray can protect us.

Best wishes,


Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Khallaf le lun 05/05/2014 - 13:21

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i also want a strict answer about the difference between the past perfect & the past perfect continuous because here in my own country every one has an opinion about it everyone is distorting

Hi ahmed only,

Since they are often used to express a difference in the speaker's view, it can be quite a challenge to learn to use these two forms properly. In general, the continuous form is used for actions or situations that are viewed by the speaker as temporary or relatively short, whereas the simple form is used for more permanent or longer actions or situations.

For example, in the case of the two sentences you ask about in your other comment, the continuous form ("How long have you been waiting here?") is the best form in most situations because presumably the person who has been waiting has not been there for months or years. Even if he or she had been waiting for years, the continuous forms are often used in situations which have just finished (in this case, the waiting has just finished if the person asking the question is the person who was being waited for).

Does this help? If you haven't already, I'd also suggest looking at our present perfect, perfective aspect and continuous aspect pages for more examples and explanations.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Khallaf le lun 05/05/2014 - 13:18

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what 's the difference between (How long have you been waiting here?)(How long have you waited here?)

Soumis par junayedriy le ven 07/03/2014 - 15:06

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Hello Sir, I am very much happy to learn English with British council. You teachers are wonderful! I have a question related to the topic. Could you please tell me which alternative is correct? a) The train was left by then. Or b) The train had left by then.

Hello junayedriy,

The second sentence is correct.  The past perfect is formed with had + the past participle (third form), not the verb 'be'.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team